We are radar gun obsessed. The evolution of baseball has yielded some of the hardest throwers we have ever seen. 90+ mph sliders are no longer eye opening. A reliever who sits 97-98 is now the norm instead of the exception, and baseball is more fun to watch because of it. But what about the rest of the mortals, guys that can actually pitch and carve up hitters with less stuff? Where is their credit? These pitching artists are unheralded, at least until now.
In the midst of all of these great new-wave hard throwers in 2014, baseball has seen a crop of throwbacks, pitchers who pitch, with lesser fastballs, lesser fanfare, but with excellent results.
A pitcher who pitches? That makes about as much sense as the term professional hitter. Don’t all major-league pitchers pitch? Aren’t all major-league hitters professional? Not exactly. Let me explain about the pitcher who pitches.
A pitcher who pitches does all or most of these things:
Doesn’t throw particularly hard.
Has above average to excellent command.
Has plus secondary pitches, usually at least one of those being a changeup or split changeup.
Changes speeds often throughout an at-bat with good speed differentials.
Fields his position well or at least is not horrible.
Induces a medium-to-high groundball rate.
Can strike out batters, but weak contact is the name of the game.
Wins or puts his team in position to win often.
Rarely has the blowout start or the runaway inning.
To be a Doug Fister Award nominee, you are most of the above things plus:
Most people never heard of you.
You were never a prospect.
You’re of great value to your team.
You’d likely rather be fishing or reading than doing a TV interview.
You are an excellent TV interview.
You study scouting reports, like really study them and retain the information.
Your 2014 Doug Fister Award Nominees:
Matt Shoemaker – Shoemaker was undrafted and signed as an amateur free agent in 2008. Major League Baseball scouting directors around the country thought there were 1,504 better amateur players than Matt Shoemaker in 2008.
On the season, Shoemaker has gone 11-3 as a rookie. His FB sits around 90 mph, he throws his two-seam fastball almost as much as his four-seam fastball, and he uses his split finger 23 percent of the time. His walk rate is an excellent 1.7/9 and his GB rate decent at 43 percent. His strikeout rate of 8.8/9 is borderline for this award, almost too good. In 12 of his 16 starts this season Shoemaker has allowed two or less ER.
Shoemaker, despite having the highest fWAR (Fan Graphs Wins Above Replacement) of any healthy Angels starter at 2.0, is not a household name — not even on his own team. With guys like C.J. Wilson (of Head & Shoulders fame), Jared Weaver (of 20-win season fame) and Garrett Richards (of 96.3 mph average fastball fame) on the roster this season, Shoemaker has gotten lost in the shuffle, making him a perfect Doug Fister Award nominee.
Tanner Roark – Roark is in the midst of a phenomenal breakout season. He, like Shoemaker, gets no love with the likes of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman and the aforementioned Doug Fister on his team.
Roark was a 25th round selection in 2008 by the Rangers and had posted a pedestrian 4.04 ERA over 6 minor-league seasons. His craftiness was unappreciated until his big-league call up in 2013 when he posted a 7-1 record in 14 games, including 5 starts. I was asked this spring training if I thought Tanner Roark had a good shot to win a spot in the Nats 2014 rotation. I did a really good job pretending I knew who Tanner Roark was.
Not anymore. Roark’s fastball sits around 91 mph. He is a true four-mix pitcher with a 2/4-seam fastball combination to go with a slider, curveball and change-up. He uses those three off-speed pitches almost equally, keeping hitters off balance as they sit anywhere from 73-83 mph. His stuff is not “wow,” but his strikeout rate of 6.8/9 is right in the sweet spot of a Doug Fister Award nominee.
Amongst the star-studded rotation that Tanner Roark is a part of in D.C., he has the highest bWAR (Baseball Reference Wins Above Replacement) at 4.4 and has walked two or less batters in 22 of his 26 starts.
Dallas Keuchel – Keuchel has the best beard in baseball. It is as neat and well maintained as any in the league and I wish more players in this Duck Dynasty generation of baseball players would take a note from the dapper Keuchel on how to wear a beard. But that is not why he is on this list.
Keuchel has uncanny similarities to Doug Fister: both were 7th round draft picks out of college, both had two very subpar first seasons in the major leagues and put it all together in their third year, both have used their fastballs at about the same rate over their careers – Keuchel at 55 percent, Fister at 57 percent – and both have averaged 89 mph with those fastballs.
Though, Keuchel really starts to separate himself when it comes to groundball rate. Last season, Fister was an impressive 4th in MLB at 54.3 percent. This season, Keuchel is far and away leading all of MLB with a 62.7 percent GB rate. That would be the highest mark we have seen in MLB since Tim Hudson’s 64.1 percent in 2010.
Keuchel’s plus two-seam fastball is not his only weapon. Heavy-use sinkerball pitchers often come with a command issues. Good sinkers are nice, but they are hard to control. Keuchel has seen his BB/9 rate increase every season and it sits at a 2.2/9 in 2014. We like sub 2.0 for DFA nominees, but we are willing to let Keuchel slide because of the superb GB rate.
The Astros do not have the star studded names in the rotation like Nationals and Angels but Keuchel is still leading his club with a 4.1 bWAR, good for 7th in the American League. His five complete games also lead the AL.
Each of these guys is living proof, it’s not just about the fastball. Pitching is an art form and 2014 has brought us a group of artists who are getting it done for their teams. It is time they get the recognition they deserve and the appreciation from the fans they don’t crave.